Muslim Nations Demand Ceasefire
Jonathan Lyons, Reuters:
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other leaders from the Islamic world demanded a halt on Thursday to Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza and weighed inclusion of Muslim forces in a future peacekeeping operation.
Aroused by restive populations back home, and aghast at the mounting toll in heavily Muslim southern Lebanon, select members of the Organization of Islamic Conference gathered in special session more than three weeks after the start of the crisis.
It was the charismatic figure of Ahmadinejad, his hardline views on Israel reinvigorated by public backing from Iran's supreme clerical leader, who animated the conference as it strove to get the OIC's voice heard above the diplomatic din.
"Although the main cure (to the situation) is the elimination of the Zionist regime, in this stage an immediate ceasefire should be implemented," Ahmadinejad, one of the driving forces behind the emergency meeting, told OIC colleagues.
"Britain and America, as the main associates of the Zionist regime in its offensive to Lebanon, should compensate Lebanon's damages. Those governments should answer for their crimes in Lebanon," he said in his speech, a copy of which was circulated. READ MORE
Summing up the frustration of many across the Muslim world, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia demanded: "The question that may come up is why this meeting could not be convened earlier."
Israel's offensive against Hizbollah in Lebanon has killed more than 900 people and wounded 3,000 with a third of the casualties children under 12, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said in a video message to the conference. He said a quarter of the population, or one million people, had been displaced.
Among those attending were the president of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, the prime minister of Muslim powerhouse Turkey, and representatives of Pakistan and Egypt.
"We must show preparedness to contribute forces for peacekeeping operations under the United Nations banner," Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia's prime minister and host of the conference, said in remarks prepared for delivery in closed session. "Malaysia is ready to do that."
As their leaders met behind closed doors, OIC diplomats said a draft communique now circulating would seek to place Muslim "Blue Helmets" under U.N. control. It also calls for an inquiry into possible Israeli war crimes in its campaign against targets in southern Lebanon and Gaza.
"Many countries have expressed their readiness to send troops under the banner of the United Nations," OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told reporters during a break.
"They asked the OIC to be more active in the peacebuilding process and in the rebuilding of Lebanon after a ceasefire establishes peace," he said of the deliberations so far.
In addition, the OIC draft demands an immediate ceasefire, adding to the pressure on Israel and its superpower ally the United States to reverse course and agree to end the fighting first and then deploy peacekeepers.
It is unclear whether the Jewish state, as a party to the conflict, or the United States would accept direct Muslim participation in a peace-keeping operation. Many OIC member states do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
(Additional reporting by Jalil Hamid in and Alireza Ronaghi)